Well, that was interesting.
I wasn’t sure whether to believe him. He sounded convincing, but they would be, wouldn’t they? The fact that he arrived late, his nervousness, his obvious interest in things that didn’t tie in, it didn’t suggest he had the same objectives as them. Maybe I was trying to rationalise his innocence because, well, he seemed like a nice guy. But he had chased me, shot at me. I could see his nose was swollen from where I’d kicked him. He was employed by the MCSP and they had made it pretty clear on their stance towards me.
Well, he wasn’t a threat to me right now – and I didn’t think he’d learned much more about me than they already knew.
Besides, when it came down to it, I wasn’t a murderer. However useful it was for him to think that, there was no way I had seriously considered killing him. He was unarmed, and looked so scared. There was quite a difference between accidentally cutting someone’s artery when you are fighting for your life and just shooting someone in the head as they pleaded for theirs, wasn’t there?
He’d said he would try find out more. I’d lose nothing if he came back with a bunch of lies so long as I was careful with anything he told me. If I assumed he wasn’t trustworthy I wouldn’t get a nasty surprise. Of course, if he came back with anything useful that I could verify, it would be invaluable. He was right, I couldn’t lose.
Then why did I have this feeling, like I’d made the wrong decision? Something inside me just said shoot him. It would be simple and safe.
No. However objectively logical, I couldn’t justify such an action.
With whatever-his-name-was chasing up on why the hell these guys were after me, I could get around to more important things.
The buzz of the dial tone cut off and the synthetic beep of his phone ringing hit my ear.
I pulled the phone away and shoved my fingers onto the ‘end call’ button on the screen.
Shit. I was never good at making phone calls, and this one took more effort than my whole exercise routine. It scared me more than running at someone who had a knife. Give me a knife fight any day over a stupid phone call.
I can do this. I have to do this.
I selected the face from the list again and tapped dial. The phone was silent, ‘connecting’, then, once again, ringing.
This time it was picked up almost instantly. “Hello? Where the hell did you get this phone?”
“I…” Shit. I should have planned what I was going to say.
I hung up.
What was I expecting? It was Beth’s phone, I hadn’t even had a chance to buy a new pre-pay account yet, not that I could afford it now. It was going to come up as his daughter. What would he make of that? Damn, I hope he doesn’t go to the cops and ask them to try trace the cell, thinking it was stolen.
It burst into life in my hand, buzzing, screen flashing. I forced myself to press ‘answer’ before I had time to think about it too much.
“Alexis?” Not so scary this time, had he recognised my voice? It wasn’t like I had a chance to say much.
Time to speak.
“Is that you?”
Why wasn’t I speaking then? “Yes.” I forced it out before the silence grew so large he gave up.
“Where did you get this?” Ah, the phone. Yes, a reasonable question.
“She gave it to me.” I couldn’t manage to say her name.
“I see.” I gave him some time to say anything, to accuse me of stealing it.
When the silence grew I asked what had been pressing on my mind since I’d left the hospital. “Is- Is she ok?”
“She still hasn’t woken up, but she…” for moment his voice broke, and my heart fell, “she hasn’t deteriorated.”
What else could I say? I had no idea what I was going to do. In the last few days my life had just shattered around me. I failed in the first step to becoming a pilot, the Island was dangerous to me because of the Kolmek. The rest of the city was dangerous because of the police. I couldn’t go to school. And Beth. Beth, my one and only friend, was lying in a hospital bed because I couldn’t protect her.
I hung up.
* * *
“Here.” I tossed the knife back to Jack. I really needed to replace the ones I lost. I felt naked without at least a few inches of sharp steel close to my body. I felt unprepared. You can never have enough knives, and I had none.
I met him in the alley where I’d left him before going to my garage. I wasn’t taking any risks.
“Thanks,” he said, catching it. “Is your hideout a secret?”
“Hideout?” God, did I sound this childish when I was twelve?
“Yeah, your hideout.” He rolled his eyes like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Everyone has a hideout. You wanna see ours? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
“I’m not showing you anything,” I said.
“You wanna see ours anyway?” For fuck’s sake.
My default reaction was rejection. I’d done nothing else my whole life. It was a risk. I’d already taken too many with this kid. But then… he had helped me, that risk paid off.
But there was something bugging me. Something that I’d never experienced.
I felt hollow. At first I thought it was because of Beth, and it was, but there was more to it than simply that. For the last two month’s I’d spent so much time with someone. I couldn’t just drop everything and go back to solitude. I felt like there was something missing. The only person I’d really spoken to since… it happened was Beth’s dad, and that had been strictly civil. Professional. Cold.
I was lonely. And this kid, he kind of reminded me of Beth. It was selfish maybe, but it filled a hole I didn’t even notice had been void.
“Fine.” I answered. He grinned and ran off at a sprint. I limped after him.
* * *
Okay, it was kind of cool. Maybe I wasn’t that old.
Roof space. Only kids could look at the dirty, dusty, disused space between a roof of a rundown apartment building and the ceiling of the floor below and think – hey potential secret hideout!
I liked it. They’d probably spent more time cleaning this place than their own rooms wherever they lived. It was cosy. Packed with a variety of junk other people had thrown away. The ultimate upgrade to the forts you make with sofas and blankets. Strangely enough, they even managed to get their hands on a musty looking couch. How they’d got it onto the roof I didn’t know.
I could picture it though. A Project. Operation Rising Sofa.
The beams of the ceiling were too low for an adult, they might have been for Beth even. For me it was fine. I only had to duck my head to get through the opening.
My presence, however, did not go unchallenged.
The kid who’d challenged Jack’s decisions on the roof, Tom if I remembered correctly, was the one to take particular affront to my presence. “We agreed, no fucking girls!” I choked back a cough at that, then realised he wasn’t being literal. They were at that age for a while longer at least.
“She’s cool, you don’t know what you’re talking about. We went on a mission,” my advocate replied. He looked at me with glowing eyes as I leaned casually against the door. However much I wanted company, I didn’t want to ruin this kid’s friendship. “Didn’t we? Tell them!”
“Jack, I told you not to tell anyone. We aren’t telling anyone anything,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“See.” They both said over each other.
“That’s so cool!” Jack said.
“She sounds like my mom,” Tom replied.
Jack looked to the two other boys in their gang, who I hadn’t heard a peep out of. They were sitting back watching. One of the shrugged at him. “No girls is the rule.”
“But she’s not like a normal girl.” Thanks Jack.
The kid who was so opposed to me, Tom, let out a harsh laugh. “You in love, Jack?” He dragged out the word.
Jack was horrified, and I couldn’t help but let the corners of my mouth twitch upwards.
“What the fuck are you on about?” he spluttered.
Oh Jack you fool. Say yes, just say yes. Turn this around. Liking girls is an adult thing… Phrase it right and you can turn that insult into something that will get you respect. It’ll completely throw him. Make him feel childish.
But no, he showed weakness. He let the kid know he’d hit the mark.
This was interesting to watch.
And then it got better… or worse. Worse really.
Jack flailed out with his fist and caught Tom in the jaw.
An amateur blow, but it must have stung like hell. In moments they were throwing punches at each other. The other two leaped from their lounging on the sofa to get a better view and egg on one or the other.
I watched with interest, wondering if it was a common occurrence. I couldn’t help but feel partly to blame. I caused the argument, and for some reason the thought struck me that Jack might be trying to impress me…